HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – There have been several abuse allegations at the Dauphin County Judicial Center, prompting protests and lawsuits.
Correctional officers at the county prison oversee up to 1,100 inmates daily.
“In 2018, we had zero deaths or zero issues here in this facility and there were 63 across the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It’s nothing new to prisons,” Director of Corrections Brian Clark said.
Clark says things have been changing since he took over first as warden in 2017 and now director of corrections, including use-of-force policy and how they handle the inmate population. He says the entire administration is new.
“The individuals coming into the booking center aren’t coming in in a relaxed state,” he said. “They’re coming in fighting, drunk, intoxicated, combative, and it’s our job to deescalate those situations.”
Ty’rique Riley was reportedly combative before he was placed in a restraint chair. He later became unresponsive and died at a hospital in late June.
“All this is is a seat with a seat belt type material that goes across the person’s body in an X, and their legs are restrained so they can’t kick,” Clark said, showing the restraint chair in the booking center.
In another case, Jarrett Leaman claims he was also put in a restraint chair and beaten. He was arrested for public drunkenness. Leaman’s attorney says that assault was caught on camera.
“I can tell you we have a zero-tolerance policy for excessive use of force,” Clark said.
Two correctional officers have been suspended without pay pending the results of an investigation.
“This week alone, we have a master correctional emergency response team school going on, training our staff in new use-of-force techniques with de-escalation,” Clark said.
The judicial center has started working on front end diversion, “doing mental health and drug and alcohol assessments on everybody that enters the booking center, so we get that first glance to see what kind of situations we have, what state the individual’s in when they become incarcerated at the booking center as a detainee,” Clark said.
That may mean getting people into treatment rather than locking them up.
“We’re constantly training here,” Clark said. “We currently have 84 of our policies in draft mode for revisions.”
Clark says there’s more transparency, especially with a community advisory committee that formed this year.
The prison also has 300 volunteers in and out of the prison running various programs including anger management, violence prevention, behavioral therapy, and a drug and alcohol outpatient treatment program.
“We are dedicated to safety. We are dedicated to the importance of all those issues that we talk about, and we spend a lot of time, effort and money in training and making sure that we are using the proper techniques and doing the things that we should be doing on a daily basis,” Clark said.
District Attorney Fran Chardo says the cases of alleged abuse are still under investigation. Riley’s family says they’re meeting with Chardo Thursday afternoon and will then hold a news conference at 5:15 p.m.